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Library trustees keep one book while eying removal of second

by HEIDI DESCH
Daily Inter Lake | January 13, 2022 3:00 PM

The ImagineIF Libraries trustees on Thursday decided to retain one book being challenged as part of its collection, but voted to “indefinitely postpone” a decision on a second book until the library can change its policies in a way that would likely allow for removal of the book.

Both books received formal requests from the public for removal from the library shelves and were subsequently reviewed by a library committee that recommended keeping the books before the decision came before trustees.

The board in a unanimous decision kept “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel. But after multiple motions with split votes and much discussion regarding the graphic novel about gender identity titled “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Aia Kobabe, the board delayed a final decision on that book.

Trustee Dave Ingram said the book “Gender Queer” contains depictions of pedophilia and pornography.

“I’m looking at Montana statute and what constitutes obscenity for minors,” he said. “We have nothing in our policy that will allow us to restrict access or provide parental supervision for minors. That is a big flaw to protect children while allowing access for adults.”

Both books have been housed in the adult section of the library.

Trustee Connie Leistiko took strong exception to Ingram’s remarks, while noting that the board has heard comments in favor of the book because it shares the story of a transgender person.

“If you’re going to judge a work of art, a material, you have to judge it as a whole,” she said.

“You can’t pick out one page and say the whole book is obscene or pornographic.”

“It’s not appropriate to just say that there’s something in this book that makes me uncomfortable and that's the reason to not allow anyone to have access to it,” she added. “That is something I can not accept and I do believe that is out of our purview of the mission to support the public library.”

Head librarian Sean Anderson also responded to Ingram’s comments, saying that it’s not for the library to pass judgment on the content of a book, but rather determine if a book fits within the guidelines of meeting the needs of the community. The book was purchased at the request of a library patron, he noted, and has won a list of national awards.

“The assertion that we are actively seeking out and acquiring pedophilia and pornography is absurd on its face,” he said.

Ingram said that wasn’t his assertion, but pointed out that the library’s policy gives the trustees no way to remove a book.

An initial motion to retain the book failed. Leistiko and fellow trustee Marsha Sultz voted in favor of keeping the book, but trustees Ingram, Doug Adams and Heidi Roedel abstained from voting.

Voting flipped on subsequent motions when Ingram, Adams and Roedel voted in favor of postponing a decision on the book while policy is updated.

Adams, who said he could see no literary value in “Gender Queer” and that it doesn’t pass the “smell test” for what is worthy of being on the library shelves, claimed that trustees have no way to remove the book from the shelves under current policy.

“As written by the policy, we’re hamstrung,” he said. “We’re not allowed to do our job. If everyone in the community wants to remove a book — tough.”

THE BOARD heard about an hour of public comment regarding both books prior to its vote on each. Comments were overwhelmingly in favor of retaining the books.

Valeri McGarvey told the board removing the books would be a “breach of public trust.”

“Your actions today will show if you have the best interest of the library at heart or not,” she said.

Camille Deitz said the depictions in the book are no different from a romance novel, but some trustees have issues with it because the book also talks about gender identity.

“This has to do with the LGBTQ members of our community and by banning this book you’re saying they don’t belong in this community,” she said.

Patty Jones, who worked for the library for 30 years, said she could count on one hand the number of times a book had been challenged.

“The library is a community place and so it should be all-inclusive for everyone,” she said. “The community is just not one opinion. There’s something in the library for everyone and there should be something to offend everyone. Don’t ban these books because you’ll open the floodgate.”

Carmen Cuthbertson, who brought the challenge against “Gender Queer,” said she did so because she wanted the board to determine if it's worth spending taxpayer money on the book.

“We should have information about how the librarians are choosing books,” she said. “Challenging a book is not a bad thing because it leads to a discussion. This isn’t about talking about the appropriateness of this one book. Don’t tell me I shouldn’t question the books in the library, because we should talk about all the books in the library.”

Constance Neumann said the library should protect children from the obscenity she claims one book contains.

“I think of the library as a place of imagination and creativity, and to be law-abiding,” she said. “Do you have money in the legal fund to defend the library?”

IN MOVING to keep “Lawn Boy,” trustee Adams said that while he didn’t enjoy the profanity used in the book he could see the “literary value” of the book.

“I think he’s a good writer and it’s a compelling story that comes from a viewpoint that you don’t normally see,” he said.

Trustee Leistiko spoke in favor of keeping the book saying that the three people who challenged the book did not read the entire book.

“Anything that is going to be judged has to be judged on its whole content,” she said. “You just can’t pick out something that offends you or makes you feel uncomfortable. I realize that there may be something in this book that makes people feel uncomfortable, however, it is a valuable book.”

“If we start to ban books because someone finds something about them they don’t like then that’s a slippery path that none of us should want to go down,” she added.

This fall the library received requests to remove both books.

The library committee, made up of library staff, reviewed the books and then recommended keeping both on the shelves saying they meet the library policy for inclusion within the collection.

Ultimately, the board of trustees decides how to handle the requests.

ImagineIF libraries dealt with a public complaint in 2019 when, after a review process, the library board voted to retain an LGBTQ-friendly children’s book as part of the library’s collection.

Features editor Heidi Desch may be reached at 758-4421 or hdesch@dailyinterlake.com.

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